SOURCE: Taken from a book by Ed Hindson
The first key to growing through failure is realizing that God is greater than your mistakes.
Second, failure is a universal part of being human.
God wants us to learn from failure. We especially need to learn how not to make the same mistake again. We need to face our weaknesses. Whatever can be changed needs to be changed; wherever we can improve, we need to improve.
If you cannot succeed in a certain area of life, it may very well be that it’s not the will of God for you to pursue that area. You might love to play football, but if the doors aren’t opening for you to play professionally, then most likely that’s not God’s calling for your life. You may enjoy singing, but perhaps your voice isn’t of the quality that’s necessary to be a recording artist. If you aren’t achieving the goals you’d like to reach, that doesn’t mean you need to feel like a failure. It just means that God intends for you to succeed elsewhere.
Don’t let some initial failure cause you to go away discouraged, angry, and upset, or you will never accomplish what you could have had you just kept trying.
What Is Your Definition of Success?
In order to address the problem of failure, we have to start with a question about success. Does God really want us to be successful? There are some pious believers who say, “Oh, the Lord really doesn’t intend for us to be successful. We can be failures to the glory of God. The more everything goes wrong, the more spiritual we can become.” Then there are those who are bent on success at any cost. Their attitude is, “Do whatever you have to do to succeed, whether it’s biblical or not. After all,” they rationalize, “God wants us to be successful. He doesn’t need any more failures.”
But how does God’s Word define success?
Read Joshua 1:8: “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” By this definition, success is doing the will of God. We may think that certain things we do will make God happy with us, but that’s not the way it works. Everything we do for God needs to be done according to the Word of God in order for it to be done in the will of God.
By some standards, Abraham was a total failure. Leaving Ur, the greatest city of his day, he went out to the middle of nowhere to the land of Canaan and there lived and died in obscurity. Yet he is one of the most illustrious men who ever lived. Moses led the slaves of Israel out of Egypt into a wilderness and never entered the Promised Land. He died a failure by modern standards, yet he is one of the greatest men God ever used. Christ died on a cross, initially appearing to be a failure, and yet by His death He won us an eternal victory. For in that death, He atoned for the sins of mankind.
Jesus talked about failure and success in the story of the successful Pharisee and the sinful publican, both of whom went to the temple to pray (Luke 18:9–14). The Pharisee’s prayer was boastful—unlike others, he had never let God down. By contrast, the publican stood afar off and bowed his head in humility and prayed, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Commenting on this incident, Jesus said, “I tell you that this man [publican] rather than the other [Pharisee], went home justified before God.” The man who appeared to be successful was a spiritual failure. The one who appeared to be a failure was the one who was truly successful. Humility, not ability, is the only true success before God.
When people fail, they usually do one of two things.
Either they confess their failure, repent of it, and get right with God, or they go around making excuses for their failure. Those who confess get back on track and ultimately turn their failure into success. The latter never honestly face their failure. They never solve the problems that led to it, and their lives never get turned around. God wants us not only to repent and erase our failure; He wants us to go on and find real success in serving Him.
The Failure Factor
Understanding Failure Orientation
Failure orientation is that self-perception found in some people that limits not only their self-confidence, but even their ability to trust God as all-sufficient Lord. Individuals with a failure orientation are haunted by a sense of failure, which comes from one of two sources:
1. How we think we appear to others. If we are prone to a failure orientation, we tend to develop “ears” for negative feedback from others. Blocking out or downplaying positive feedback, the failure orientation makes us morbidly sensitive to any negative response we’re getting from others. Unfortunately, we tend to limit the feedback we receive—thereby limiting whatever useful information we might glean from the comments of others. We need feedback from others to help us develop the foundation stones of our value system, self-concept, and understanding of behavior.
Sometimes individuals with a failure orientation have trouble distinguishing between negative feedback directed at them personally and negative feedback simply directed at their behavior. It is important to be able to distinguish between the two in interpreting feedback. “Failure” that may come in the form of a negative response to one’s behavior is usually short-lived and may be overcome. Such “failure” should not be mistaken for a negative response to one’s own person or self-integrity.
As Christians, we may fail, but we are not failures. No matter what others choose to think of us, we are “more than conquerors” through Jesus Christ, who loves us (see Romans 8:37). From time to time, others may praise or ridicule us, but we must never lose our true identity and sense of purpose in the quicksand of struggling to prove ourselves acceptable to others. Scripture describes clearly how we should envision our efforts as we strive to achieve our goals in this life: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.… It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23–24 NASB).
2. How we view ourselves. Frequently, people with a failure orientation have an artificially high, unrealistic, or even perfectionistic set of expectations for themselves. When asked to rate their accomplishments in almost any area on a scale from one to ten, such persons inevitably rate themselves at five or worse. They rate themselves harshly, even when by all objective standards their performance is far above average. These individuals tend to categorically classify themselves as total successes or total failures. They have an “either-or” mentality when viewing their own accomplishments. They see their output as fully acceptable or totally worthless—more often the latter.
Such a sense of failure often paralyzes initiative. These individuals become cautious, diffident, unwilling to take risks their own judgment tells them are perfectly acceptable. Such persons need a comparison group of other individuals who are at a roughly equivalent skill and attribute level with whom they can identify and derive a sense of belonging without either being intimidated or bored.
Overcoming Failure Orientation
How can we overcome failure orientation? Here are some suggestions:
1. Fully analyze and understand our own failure-prone thinking. Analyzing the negative thinking and feelings of failure within us can help in identifying the various areas or aspects of life in which they appear. We need to try to delineate these areas as specifically as possible and look for hidden irrational ideas or unbiblical beliefs that serve to undermine our sense of God-given worth.
Usually we can trace our failure orientation back to various setbacks and misconceptions coming from ideas about ourselves, our friends, job, parents, brothers and sisters, church, or school. Rather than perceiving the world through our mind’s “failure filter,” we need to analyze and approach situations from a biblical perspective. One way to do this is to write down every irrational or unbiblical idea we can pinpoint in our thoughts. Then match it with a passage of Scripture that refutes it.
2. Choose goals and objectives that will improve our self-concept. It is advisable to begin with an area in which we have a reasonable amount of self-confidence. A success-oriented self-concept is contagious within our own personality. When we are able to establish goals and begin to reach them, the belief that “I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me” begins to take on genuine reality in our own experience. From one area of success, this attitude of confident capability will snowball into other personal and professional areas of our lives.
3. Break the objectives down into bite-sized components. Once we have begun to take on an objective, it is necessary to approach that goal through a series of small steps. No one can jump from the ground onto the roof of a house, but ten or 12 small steps on a ladder will enable us to get there. By breaking the goal down into a series of smaller bite-sized behaviors and objectives, we simplify our task and heighten our chances for success. These smaller objectives should be undertaken in logical sequence, moving from shortest to longest or easiest to hardest. Here, the wise and thoughtful counsel of a spiritually mature person is invaluable, whether we need advice or just encouragement.
4. Implement a plan of action. This is the trial-and-error step. It will involve developing persistence above all else. It will involve the discipline to be well prepared for a task, and sensitivity to remain teachable and flexible. A change in a personal failure orientation of a longstanding nature won’t happen overnight. Many times, in fact, we will find ourselves taking two steps forward and one step back, but time is on our side, and the outcome is guaranteed. We can be confident, that “he who began a good work in [us] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
Turn Your Failure into Success
Many people never overcome their failures because they never really forgive themselves for failing. They continue to punish themselves with self-inflicted guilt rather than moving beyond failure to success.
1. To fail is to be human. All human beings fail. God is fully aware of our limitations: “He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14 NKJV). “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). True success is not avoiding failure, but learning what to do with it.
2. To fail is not be a failure. Studies show that the most successful people often fail. For example, Babe Ruth not only set the record in his day for home runs in a single baseball season—he led the league in strikeouts, as well. However, that didn’t make him a failure. Many Christians who have achieved a number of successes are quick to call themselves failures when they suffer a few strikeouts in life.
3. No one is ever a failure until he stops trying. It is better to attempt much and occasionally fail than to attempt nothing and achieve it. No one learns the limits of his ability until he has reached the point of total failure. Thomas Edison tried over 5,000 different types of light-bulb filaments without success before finding one that would work. His willingness to endure many failures without branding himself a failure gave us the electric light.
4. Failure is never final as long as we get up one more time than we fall down. Fear is much more damaging than failure. If you’ve failed, admit it and start over. Forgive yourself and learn to forgive others. Don’t be controlled by what has happened to you, but rather be motivated by where you are trying to go. Focus on your goals, not your failures. Move ahead with determination, for nothing worthwhile is accomplished without some risk. “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV). God has given you certain gifts and abilities to serve Him. You may not be able to do everything, but you can do something. Go and do it to His glory!
Hindson, E. E. (1999). God is There in the Tough Times (62–68). Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers.